03 Nov What is a Disciple?
As part of our Healthy Church teaching series we are taking a closer look at disciple-making which is perhaps one of the most important characteristics we can display in relation to the Churches universal purpose and mission.
‘Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Matthew 28: 18-20
From the very beginning of the church’s formation, God’s design has been for every single disciple of Jesus to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples until the gospel spreads to all peoples. Yet, have we turned the clear commission that Christ gave to the church into a call for Christians to merely come to church and listen to uplifting and entertaining teaching in one location, once a week, as we focus more on the Sunday experience, rather than the call to unite around the mission of going and making disciples.
Of course, worship is essential, teaching is important, prayer is vital, communion is integral, edification and encouragement are necessary, and we are to do all this consistently and passionately, as a community, when we gather together, and hopefully we do all this well, but what is all that producing? What is it all for? What is it equipping us to be able to do? What is it inspiring us to become? What is the outcome of all this apparently wonderful spiritual activity? Because if all that we are doing is not ultimately enabling us to better fulfil the mission that Christ called us into, then somewhere along the line we’ve missed something?
In reflecting on this challenge it would help us to consider the invitation of Jesus to his first disciples, as this serves as probably the most helpful definition of what it actually means to be a disciple, and therefore reveals what we should look like as a church full of disciples;
‘As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me.” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father an followed him.’ Matthew 4:18-22
‘Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’
The book ‘Real-life discipleship’, by Jim Putman is super helpful in thinking through what it means to be a disciple and what disciple making is all about, and much of what follows flows out of this book.
What does the invitation from Jesus involve?
1. Hearing the call from Jesus.
First it involves hearing; We hear Jesus issuing a call to us, may be through another disciple of Jesus, may be through reading the Bible, or listening to a sermon; ‘Come to me, follow me, trust me. become my disciple, I am the way, the truth and the life.’ So the first step for any disciple is to hear the call.
2. Following Jesus.
A call from Jesus involves a response to follow Him, to learn from Him, to imitate Him, to become like Him, to worship, serve and obey Him. Many people hear the call but they don’t respond, they don’t follow, and so they don’t receive all that Jesus came to make possible for them.
What’s your response to Jesus? Have you seen in Him one worth following, one worth trusting with your whole life?
For Simon, Andrew, James and John this response to follow involved them leaving their family businesses, leaving their own families, leaving all that they had ever known, in order to follow Jesus.
The call to follow Jesus is not a comfortable and convenient call, it is not something we simply add to our life, but something that completely changes our life. In deciding to follow Jesus we are changing the very centre of our life, the very focus of our life, no longer are we choosing to follow our own desires and ambitions, but we are choosing to follow Jesus. No longer are we the master of our own life, but we have a new master, His name is Jesus.
Jesus said ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16:24). The call of Jesus is NOT to deny your neighbour, take up your comfort and follow your dreams. How do we get from the call of Jesus to abandon our lives and step out to follow him, to this idea that we can hold onto our old life and ask Jesus to step on board and follow us?
To be disciples, we must recognise and accept who Jesus is and we must place ourselves under his authority. Jesus said come and follow me, which means we begin to be disciples when we understand that we are positioned behind him. He leads, we follow. He leads, we obey. He leads, we trust.
3. Being changed by Jesus.
Being a disciple not only involves following Jesus but it also Involves being changed by Jesus;
Jesus said I will make you… fishers of men. He didn’t say come follow me and try and make something of your own life, rather He said, come and follow me and I will make something of your life. He didn’t say come and follow me because I need you to help me figure out how to fix this broken world… He said, come and follow me and I will show you what to do, and I will transform you and equip you to be able to do it.
Who Jesus calls, He also promises to equip. He takes us and makes us into the people He wants us to be. ‘We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Eph 2:10)
If Jesus has called, and you have responded, then He has promised, not only to be with you, but also to change you… not overnight, not all at once, but over time.
4. Being committed to the mission of Jesus.
When we respond in repentance and faith and begin to follow Jesus, he begins shaping and moulding us by His Spirit, He gives us a new heart and new desires, He leads us and guides us, He empowers us and teaches us, that we might become more like Him, and that we might become fishers of men, disciples of Jesus who make other disciples of Jesus.
So being a disciple means not only that you will follow Christ, not only that you will be changed by Christ, but it also means that you will be committed to the mission of Christ.
Come follow me and I will make you ‘fishers of men’.
We don’t just hear the call and follow Jesus for our own sake, but His work in our lives is also for the sake of others.
Jesus says I will make you fishers of men; By my work in you, by my Spirit at work in your heart, I will turn your heart outward, away from a preoccupation with yourself, and towards a preoccupation with reaching others for Jesus, helping others to know and love Jesus.
And this brings us back to the centrality of the final commission of Jesus to his disciples; ‘go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you….’
To be a disciple, means that you are following Jesus, that you are being changed by Jesus and that you are committed to the mission of Jesus, which means that you will be a disciple maker, we cannot escape that reality, we cannot avoid that challenge, we cannot pretend we’re growing and successful if we are not aligned with who Jesus said we should be and what Jesus said we should do; be disciples who make disciples…
That doesn’t mean we’ll all do that in the same way in the same contexts with the same level of fruit, but we will all be engaged in not only following Jesus, but helping others to follow Him too. How are you engaged in doing that? How are you intentionally helping someone else to follow Christ (more on that next time).
Post by: Martin Coleman